Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter is a health insurance industry whistleblower and author of 'Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans'

January 26th, 2011 11:58 AM

'How Everybody Exists' Doesn't Have to Be

If you want to know how things really get done in Washington -- or don't get done, depending on the desires of America's corporate executives -- all you have to do is read a couple of paragraphs in a Jan. 23 Philadelphia Inquirer story (see page 2).

Reporter Joe DiStefano quotes a vice president at APCO Worldwide -- one of DC's most powerful and influential PR firms -- in response to questions about my book, Deadly Spin. Throughout the book I disclose the previously secretive work APCO did for the health insurance industry to manipulate public opinion on health care reform, in part by trying to scare people away from a movie, Michael Moore's 2007 documentary Sicko.

The surprising gem in the Inquirer piece was that APCO VP Bill Pierce essentially agreed with me. He acknowledged that interest-funded pressure groups "are all over the place" in Washington. "That's how everybody exists here," Pierce said.

He's right. That is indeed how the influence peddlers and spinmeisters exist (although a much more accurate word is thrive) in Washington.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Here's the context. Pierce -- an old (and probably now former) friend from my nearly two decades inside the insurance industry -- was quoted by DiStefano as saying that I erred when I wrote that APCO set up and operated a fake grassroots front group, Health Care America, to discredit Moore and his movie because insurance company executives were terrified that Sicko would convince even more Americans that the government should play a much greater role in the U.S. health care system.

The trend was already going against the industry: In the spring of 2007, a few weeks before Sicko's U.S. premiere, the insurance industry's pollsters told the executives that for the first time ever, more than half of all Americans were so disillusioned with the way private insurers controlled the health care system that they wanted more government involvement.

My error, according to Pierce, is not in pointing out that APCO was doing the dirty work of the industry through its phony front group -- but that I failed to acknowledge the role that other big special interests played in funding Health Care America, as well. (Pierce was listed on the now-defunct group's press releases as Health Care America's media contact. If you called the number on the press release for Pierce, you would have reached him at his desk at APCO.)

DiStefano is at least the second reporter to hear Pierce complain that I did the public a disservice by not giving sufficient credit to other big special interests who paid APCO to create and run Health Care America. In November of last year he told PR industry watchdog Jack O'Dwyer the same thing.

In response, I wrote a blog post on Nov. 22 detailing the history and work of the front group. Here's an excerpt:

O'Dwyer blogged last Tuesday that, 'Just about every known evil practice that PR has ever engaged in is described in Deadly Spin.' He noted that I had mentioned APCO -- the second biggest firm in the O'Dwyer ranking, with $100.3 million in fees in 2009 -- several times in the book. APCO and AHIP must be paying a media monitoring service to alert them immediately when I am mentioned in the media, as they did for Michael Moore and Sicko three years ago. Within hours, APCO Senior Vice President William Pierce sent O'Dwyer an email to challenge my credibility because of my failure to disclose Health Care America's original incarnation. He's right -- partially. I should have pointed out in the book that APCO repurposed Health Care America for the insurance industry and other special interests who were concerned that Sicko might lead to reforms that would threaten their profits, too. I would have disclosed it if I had known about it. Unlike PR people who practice the dark arts of PR, I had no intention of misleading anyone.

Textbook Playbook

Had Pierce been more forthcoming, he might have shared with DiStefano the PR plan APCO prepared for America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry's big lobbying group, to discredit Sicko and set the stage for the industry's campaign to shape health care reform legislation.

Since he didn't, I will.

Here it is, courtesy of Bill Moyers, who disclosed portions of the APCO/AHIP plan on the July 10, 2009, edition of Bill Moyers Journal, and posted it on his website.As you can see, the plan shows how APCO planned to use Health Care America and other organizations that APCO could press into service in the industry's campaign against Sicko. If you've ever wanted to know how to create a PR plan to discredit an enemy and manipulate public opinion, you should take a look at this one. It's a classic.

Back to Pierce's comments to DiStefano. Here's the full quote:

'Pharma, hospitals, doctors backed Health Care America, not insurers,' Pierce said. He doesn't see why Potter thinks such groups are a threat to democracy: In Washington, interest-funded pressure groups 'are all over the place,' and many are backed by liberals. 'That's how everybody exists here.'

Pierce and I agree on this last point. Pierce admitted in a few words that one of the core truths of my book is indeed true: The near-total control exerted by corporate special interests over the democratic process in America is simply, and in the most literal way possible, business as usual.

The irony seems to be lost on Pierce, however. What's the big deal, he asks?

Endangered Democracy

The big deal is that this dynamic threatens the very foundations of our democracy. It puts the interests of corporations, and the institutional shareholders that own them, above the interests of individual citizens -- you and me. It concentrates power in the hands of a few "business leaders" rather than in the people who vote and the people those voters elect to represent them. It gives the loudest voice not to those with the best ideas but to those who can afford the most expensive lobbyists.

In the end, the true will of the people -- such as the widely popular but still elusive policy of providing universal access to affordable, quality health care, as do the countries featured in Sicko -- will continue to be thwarted until this is no longer "how everybody exists" in Washington.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles